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'Tent vigil' staged to bring awareness to homelessness crisis in San Diego

This action was dedicated to the more than 800 homeless San Diego County residents who died in 2020 and 2021: a number homeless advocates fear will only increase.

SAN DIEGO — Homeless advocates are working to bring more visibility to San Diego's homelessness crisis.

If you were driving along West Mission bay drive Thursday, you likely saw the 'tent vigil' set up by De Anza cove: a message for local leaders to take more action when it comes to helping San Diegans who are unsheltered. 

This was dedicated to the more than 800 homeless San Diego County residents who died in the past two years, according to the County Medical Examiner's office: a number that many homeless advocates fear will only increase if local leaders don't do more to create more affordable housing.

"We are in a housing disaster," said Martha Sullivan of the San Diego Housing Emergency Alliance.

It is a "disaster" that organizers said is exacerbated by punitive policies that target San Diegans, unable to afford rent, who are forced to live in their vehicles.

"They are being criminalized...they're being ticketed," said Sullivan. 

After being ticketed several times, receiving fines she was unable to pay, one mother of four who spoke at Thursday's vigil said that she had her RV towed in February.

"That was our home," the mother told the rest of the group. "I don't think they understood that what they did when they towed our RV was, they took our home. They put my husband, I and our four children on the streets," 

Advocates said there is an immediate solution available just on the other side of the bay from Thursday's vigil: a 500-space RV resort which organizers said could be quickly turned into an emergency campground for the unsheltered.

"They can stay in a tent or stay in a vehicle there," Sullivan told CBS 8. "They'll have bathrooms, showers. Social workers would be able to contact them more easily in order to keep them on the path to housing,"

Earlier this week, Mayor Todd Gloria released a new 'housing action' package, which aims to create more affordable housing, including a push for more student housing; building homes on under-utilized commercial sites; and creating incentives for developers to build more low-cost single-room occupancy housing, or SROs.

Homeless advocates point out that since 2010, the city of San Diego has lost nearly ten thousand SRO units, many converted to market-rate housing.

"Every single one of those SRO's...the council was obligated to replace. They haven't replaced them," said Coleen Cusack, a defense attorney and member of the San Diego Housing Emergency Alliance.

"Homelessness is the result of bad decision-making," said Cusack. "But not of the homeless person...of our leaders."

To take a closer look at the city's new housing action package, click here

WATCH RELATED: Mayors from across San Diego County meet to address homelessness crisis (August 2022)

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